Could Tromso, high in Norway’s Arctic Circle, be the cinephile’s dream at this time of year? After all, with just four hours of (twi)light a day, snow inches thick and the only real distractions being the serious coffee at the deli, Northern Lights surveillance (failed) and the dog sled rides care of a 12-pack of huskies (admittedly awesome), there’s little else to do but go to the pictures. Not that this most ‘remote’ of settlements is a depressed backwater. A cultural, economic and social centre for much of the Arctic, it’s a mixed media festival hub whatever the weather, and that goes too for early January when it plays host to the world’s most northerly – and international – film festival (its 13th in 2003). The polar (sic) counterpoint to Finland’s summer ‘Midnight Sun’ jamboree, Tromso is a modest, conducive, and extremely popular gathering of the best in world cinema from the year just gone, coupled with national features, shorts and documentary strands, alongside a fascinating selection of work dealing with ‘the idea of North’. The city of 60,000 has long been a springboard for expeditions heading towards the pole and it looks as much, if not more, to its Arctic neighbours as south to Oslo.
Thus, whether it’s a winner’s exchange with Canada’s Dawson City Film Festival (this year Andrew Connors presented ‘Shipyards Lament’, his poignant documentary on a rapidly changing Yukon), ‘Mothers of Life’, Markku Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui’s affecting portrait of Siberian nomads or the Icelandic focus, the frozen territories proved filmically very fertile. In the latter realm, Baltasar ‘101 Reykjavik’ Kormakur’s second feature offered ‘Festen’-style family meltdown against the backdrop of community fishing collapse, while Fridrik Thor Fridriksson’s ‘Falcons’ sent Keith Carradine on a smuggling quest across the island; a journey not dissimilar to that made in the director’s earlier ‘Cold Fever’, the film chosen by its (and sometime Jarmusch) producer, Jim Stark, in town for some seminars. His next project is an adaptation of Bukowski’s novel ‘Factotum’, with Norwegian director Bent Hamer, whose delightful ‘Psalms from the Kitchen’, a singular fable of domestic science and gentle subversion, took home the FIPRESCI prize. Meanwhile, top gong the Aurora, guaranteeing national distribution, went to affecting Tadjik drama ‘Angel on the Right’ (out in the UK this year).
Local pride alongside truly international acknowledgement: a blend that seems very important to Tromso and its midwinter feast of filmmaking. They used in these climes to gather round the fire for the telling of tales. Now it’s the flicker of film forms that lure one to the shared hearth of the screen. When it comes to seasonal screenings, the ice most definitely has it.
© FIPRESCI 2003